In the first year after rescuing our dog, Brezel, my husband and I were dedicated to training her. Ideally, we wanted an obedient dog that would listen and adhere to basic commands around the house. When we rescued her, she was calm, timid, and did not show any signs of aggression. We immediately began taking her to group classes, which focused on controlling your dog in public. We went to our second group class 3 weeks after we rescued her, and a different side of Brezel came out. Anytime she saw a dog leash react, she reacted by lunging, pulling on her chain, and making aggressive sounds. We loved our dog and wanted to provide her training and support so she would not exhibit these behaviors.
We rescued Brezel from Westside German Shepherd Rescue, and the only information we had was that they rescued her from the Downey Shelter, and they thought she had been with a young family because she loves children. Three months after we rescued her, we rescued Schnitzel, a sweet, docile, and submissive GSD mix.
In our first year with Brezel, we took her to group classes every weekend. These classes were tailored to helping reactive dogs. We realized quickly that we needed private training sessions to better support Brezel. In two different occasions, smaller dogs charged her, and she reacted quite aggressively. During walks, she would react to small dogs that she saw on the walk. Her unpredictability and subtle signs grew into a major concern for my husband, Scott, and me. After a year of group and private lessons, we wanted to see more progress more quickly. Since we had two dogs, and Scott was working late into the evenings, it became difficult for me to walk both.
We found Ruff Beginnings Rehab through the Westside German Shepherd Alumni Facebook Group. Bethany, the lead trainer, came highly recommended by a German Shepherd owner. We immediately contacted Bethany and quickly realized how much her philosophy matched our vision for Brezel. She emphasized that creating a calm dog was key to their behavioral success. She explained that her program utilizes an e-collar to help send clear and direct messages to the dog. We decided we wanted to send Brezel for boarding training, and Bethany recommended a three-week program, which included four private training sessions throughout the process. Our goal was to help Brezel control her reactivity and to have her be able to walk side by side with Schnitzel, so one person could easily walk them both.
The three week program included e-collar training, Brezel learning a list of specific commands, and teaching her to harness control of her behavior. To better understand Brezel, Bethany sent us a very thorough questionaire to fill out before Brezel arrived. We described her daily demeanor, her triggers (small dogs, dogs barking at her, noises, fear of men, sudden movements, etc.), and specific incidences of her aggression. When we arrived at Bethany’s home to drop off Brezel, Bethany could speak to Brezel’s state of mind and identify that her behavior is all fear-based. Bethany is so in-tune with dogs that she was able to determine this just by reading the questionnaire.
Brezel’s first week at Ruff Beginnings Rehab consisted of her learning muscle memory, pairing tools with commands, and learning “no” in low distraction environments. We easily tracked her progress, as Bethany posted video or photo updates almost daily. Brezel was fearful in her first days, so Bethany adjusted her program by feeding her bits of chicken and giving her some free roaming time to quickly warm her up. She mentioned that this was special treatment, as most dogs are not so fearful. It was comforting to know that Bethany understood Brezel, and was able to proactively adjust to Brezel’s needs.
After Brezel’s first two weeks, we had our first training session. We arrived at Bethany’s home, and she asked us to just ignore Brezel when she walked her in. We noticed Brezel’s transformation immediately. She walked in calmly, laid down on the dog bed, and just stared at Scott and me. Previous to training, her excitement would take over, and she would act like a normal dog, wagging her tail, running around, and jumping. We could see that she had learned self control! During this session, Bethany taught us how to use patterning to practice her “place” and “down” commands.
We also went on a neighborhood walk, and Bethany coached us through various scenarios. This rich learning experience focused on controlled environments, and situations that arise organically. For example, we came across a few dog owners that did not have full control of their dogs, and Bethany modeled how to lead our dog to bubble out away from anything that could cause concern, and when to use the e-collar to prevent any hyper focus. She also used her own dogs to stage scenarios for practice. Knowing that the environment was controlled eased my nerves, and built my confidence in guiding Brezel. After our first lesson, Brezel’s transformative change in demeanor left us confident in helping her manage her fear and anxiety. At the end of this lesson, we left Schnitzel there, so that he could get some prong collar training and be able to walk next to Brezel.
A week later, we met Bethany and Brezel at a park to do long line and park training. Bethany spent two hours with us showing us how to sharpen Brezel’s recall skills. Because of Brezel’s unpredictability, we always kept her close to us when we were in public. Bethany showed us how having a strong recall allows Brezel more freedom, while building trust in our relationship. Bethany coached us through various scenarios such as off leash dogs approaching Brezel, and what to do if Brezel is triggered by something. We successfully worked with Brezel on a 30 ft. leash, and felt confident that we could continue these exercises with her at home.
The next day was Brezel’s homecoming! We were so excited to have her back, but knew that, to ensure Brezel’s success, we would need to provide more structure, and limit affection, treats and play. Bethany explained that it was imperative that Brezel did not feel as if she were in charge of anything, and that if we did not hold her accountable to the high expectations set, she would easily revert back to her old ways. Bethany spent over 4 hours with us, coaching us through a neighborhood walk, and helping us set routines and procedures for inside our home. She very thoroughly explained the reasoning and dog psychology behind everything, and patiently answered our questions. She urged us to check in with her the next day, to see how everything went. We have an additional follow up session with Bethany to use whenever we feel the need. It’s comforting to know that we can turn to her if anything comes up, and that she knows Brezel well enough to guide us through specific scenarios.
Bethany’s care for our dogs was apparent throughout this entire process. Along with the weekly updates that she sent, she posted either a video or photos of Brezel’s progress almost daily. Not only did this ease our worries, but it served as a great training tool for us. We could go back, rewatch the videos, and better comprehend the different tools and exercises.
Many people asked me, “Won’t you miss her?” or “Aren’t you worried she thinks you abandoned her?” While these were thoughts that I had, I focused on the fact that Brezel would get the support and training she needed, which Scott and I were not able to provide for her in the last year. As dog “parents”, I didn’t think it was fair to expect her to control her fear-based behavior when Scott and I did not have the right tools to help her. Now that we have the tools and skills, I am confident that we can guide her to be a calm and happy dog. Bethany gave Brezel exactly what she needed, while holding her to very high expectations, and we hope to sustain that work. While we missed Brezel and she missed us, we knew it was the right thing to do because it was better for Brezel in the long run.
If you are interested in training your dog, check out Ruff Beginnings Rehab and Training. Bethany truly understands dogs and expertly adjusts to dog needs while holding them to high behavioral expectations. Scott and I understand that sending Brezel for three weeks won’t solve all of her problems and that we must be committed to holding her accountable after her return home. Bethany set the foundation for success, and we will do everything in our power to continue it!